When Seraphine perceived that Mathieu was gazing at her, as in a nightmare, moved by the shuddering silence of that death-watch, she once more grinned like a lunatic, and said: “He is dead, we were all there!”
It was insane, improbable, impossible; and yet was it true or was it false? A cold, terrifying quiver swept by, the icy quiver of mystery, of that which one knows not, which one will never know.
Boutan leant towards Mathieu and whispered in his ear: “She will be raving mad and shut up in a padded cell before a week is over.” And, indeed, a week later the Baroness de Lowicz was wearing a straight waistcoat. In her case Dr. Gaude’s treatment had led to absolute insanity.
Mathieu and Boutan watched beside Constance until daybreak. She never opened her lips, nor raised her eyelids. As the sun rose up, she turned towards the wall, and then she died.
STILL more years passed, and Mathieu was already sixty-eight and Marianne sixty-five, when amid the increasing good fortune which they owed to their faith in life, and their long courageous hopefulness, a last battle, the most dolorous of their existence, almost struck them down and sent them to the grave, despairing and inconsolable.
One evening Marianne went to bed, quivering, utterly distracted. Quite a rending was taking place in the family. A disastrous and hateful quarrel had set the mill, where Gregoire reigned supreme, against the farm which was managed by Gervais and Claire. And Ambroise, on being selected as arbiter, had fanned the flames by judging the affair in a purely business way from his Paris counting-house, without taking into account the various passions which were kindled.
It was on returning from a secret application to Ambroise, prompted by a maternal longing for peace, that Marianne had taken to her bed, wounded to the heart, and terrified by the thought of the future. Ambroise had received her roughly, almost brutally, and she had gone back home in a state of intense anguish, feeling as if her own flesh were lacerated by the quarrelling of her ungrateful sons. And she had kept her bed, begging Mathieu to say nothing, and explaining that a doctor’s services would be useless, since she did not suffer from any malady. She was fading away, however, as he could well detect; she was day by day taking leave of him, carried off by her bitter grief. Was it possible that all those loving and well-loved children, who had grown up under their care and their caresses, who had become the joy and pride of their victory, all those children born of their love, united in their fidelity, a sacred brotherly, sisterly battalion gathered close around them, was it possible that they should now disband and desperately seek to destroy one another? If so, it was true, then, that the more a family increases, the greater is the harvest of ingratitude. And still more accurate became the saying, that to judge of any human being’s happiness or unhappiness in life, one must wait until he be dead.